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Sample holder and method for treating sample material
8709359 Sample holder and method for treating sample material
Patent Drawings:

Inventor: Laugharn, Jr.
Date Issued: April 29, 2014
Application:
Filed:
Inventors:
Assignee:
Primary Examiner: Hixson; Christopher A
Assistant Examiner:
Attorney Or Agent: Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C.
U.S. Class: 422/536; 422/554; 422/559
Field Of Search: ;422/50; ;422/430; ;422/500; ;422/536; ;422/527; ;422/547; ;422/551; ;422/552; ;422/554; ;422/559; ;422/560; ;422/561; ;435/307.1; ;435/283.1; ;73/864.91; ;73/863
International Class: G01N 1/28; G02B 21/34; B01L 3/00
U.S Patent Documents:
Foreign Patent Documents: 738286; 0707892; 0709136; 1462155; WO 9502456; WO 0025125; WO 02088296; WO 2005056748; WO 200701660
Other References: Invitation to Pay Additional Fees and Partial International Search for International Patent Application PCT/US2012/020149 dated Apr. 3, 2012.cited by applicant.
International Search Report and Written Opinion from International Patent Application PCT/US2004/040133 dated Apr. 20, 2005. cited by applicant.
International Search Report and the Written Opinion of the International Searching Authority for PCT Application No. PCT/US2012/020149, Dated Jul. 3, 2012. cited by applicant.









Abstract: Method and apparatus for holding and/or treating a sample material. A sample material may be positioned in a vessel between top and bottom flexible films where the flexible films are connected together by a substantially rigid support structure that surrounds the sample material. A crushing force may be applied to the sample material via the top and bottom flexible films, e.g., to pulverize the sample at cryogenic temperatures. A sample holder may have two vessels, one arranged for applying a crushing force to a first sample and another for holding a sample for other processing, such as a histology analysis.
Claim: The invention claimed is:

1. A sample holder comprising: a support structure defining a substantially rigid sidewall of a vessel, the support structure defining a bottom opening and a topopening, a first layer of flexible film attached to the support structure, the first layer of film covering the bottom opening; a second layer of flexible film attached to the support structure, the second layer covering the top opening; and a capremovably engagable with the support structure so as the close the top opening of the vessel, wherein the cap is arranged to sealing engage the second layer with the support structure to cover the top opening, wherein the first and second layers of filmare separated from each other by the sidewall and are arranged to transmit a crushing force exerted on the first and second layers to crush a sample material contained in the vessel.

2. The holder of claim 1, wherein at least a portion of the sidewall extends from a generally planar body of the support structure.

3. The holder of claim 2, wherein the sidewall has a cylindrical shape and extends upwardly from the generally planar body.

4. The holder of claim 1, wherein the support structure defines sidewalls for two separate vessels.

5. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and/or second layer have a convex shape such that a portion of the first and/or second layer extends into the vessel.

6. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and/or second layer have a concave shape such that a portion of the first and/or second layer extends away from the vessel.

7. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and/or second layer is formed of a polyimide, a polysulfone, a fluorinated polymer or a liquid crystal polymer.

8. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material while at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C.

9. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C. without cracking, tearing, or ripping when exposed to the crushingforce.

10. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material where the crushing force transfers energy to the sample material of at least about 10 Joules.

11. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first and second layers have a thickness of between about 0.0005 and 0.0005 inches.

12. The holder of claim 1, wherein the vessel is sealed in a substantially air tight fashion with the first and second layers covering the bottom and top openings, respectively.

13. The holder of claim 1, wherein the top and bottom openings have a size of about 20 mm.

14. The holder of claim 1, wherein the first layer includes a convex portion that extends into the vessel and has a dome shape with an outer diameter of about 5 mm and a height of about 2 mm.

15. The holder of claim 1, wherein the support structure is arranged for use as a standard microscope slide.

16. The holder of claim 1, wherein the sidewall has a height of about 2 mm to about 10 mm.

17. The holder of claim 1, wherein the support structure defines a second vessel arranged to hold a sample suitable for microtome processing.

18. A sample holder comprising: a support structure defining first and second vessels, each of the vessels including a top opening, first and second covers that are each removably engagable with the support structure so as to close the topopening of the first and second vessels, respectively; and wherein the first vessel is arranged to contain a first sample material and transmit a crushing force exerted on the first vessel to the first sample material to crush the first sample material,wherein the first vessel includes a bottom opening opposite the top opening, the sample holder further comprising: a first layer of flexible film attached to the support structure, the first layer of film cover the bottom opening of the first vessel; and a second layer of flexible attached to the support structure, the second layer covering the top opening of the first vessel, wherein the first and second layers of film are separated from each other by a portion of the support structure and arearranged to transmit a crushing force exerted on the first and second layers to crush a sample material contained in the vessel, and wherein the second vessel is arranged to contain a second sample material suitable for a histology analysis.

19. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first and second vessels are separable from each other without the use of tools.

20. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first cover includes a cover opening, and the second layer of flexible film is attached to the cover to close the cover opening, and wherein the second layer of flexible film covers the top openingof the first vessel with the first cover engaged with the support structure.

21. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C. without cracking, tearing, or ripping when exposed to thecrushing force.

22. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material where the crushing force transfers energy to the sample material of at least about 10 Joules.

23. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first and second layers have a thickness of between about 0.0005 and 0.0005 inches.

24. The sample holder of claim 18, wherein the first vessel is sealed in a substantially air tight fashion with the first and second layers covering the bottom and top openings, respectively.

25. A sample holder comprising: a support structure defining a substantially rigid sidewall of a vessel, the support structure defining a bottom opening and a top opening, a first layer of flexible film attached to the support structure, thefirst layer of film covering the bottom opening, a second layer of flexible film attached to the support structure, the second layer covering the top opening, wherein the first and second layers of film are separated from each other by the sidewall andare arranged to transmit a crushing force exerted on the first and second layers to crush a sample material contained in the vessel, and wherein the support structure is arranged for use as a standard microscope slide.

26. The holder of claim 25, wherein at least a portion of the sidewall extends from a generally planar body of the support structure.

27. The holder of claim 25, wherein the first and/or second layer is formed of a polymide, a polysulfone, a fluorinated polymer or a liquid crystal polymer.

28. The holder of claim 25, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material while at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C.

29. The holder of claim 25, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C. without cracking, tearing, or ripping when exposed to the crushingforce.

30. The holder of claim 25, wherein the first and second layers are arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material where the crushing force transfers energy to the sample material of at least about 10 Joules.

31. The holder of claim 25, wherein the first and second layers have a thickness of between about 0.0005 and 0.005 inches.

32. The holder of claim 25, wherein the vessel is sealed in a substantially air tight fashion with the first and second layers covering the bottom and top openings, respectively.
Description: BACKGROUND

A first step in sample analysis typically involves collecting the sample. For example, a first step in a biological analysis such as RNA gene expression profiling or protein biomarker profiling is to collect a particular sample so that itsbiochemical constituents can be analyzed. However, prior to such analysis, a solid sample specimen, typically, is prepared by deconstructing it into a plurality of smaller fragments of the specimen to enable more accurate analysis.

A challenge of sample preparation is that the types of samples are diverse. For example, samples may be biological, non-biological or a combination thereof. They may be from animals or plants. Samples may include, without limitation, cells,tissues, organelles, bones, seeds, chemical compounds, minerals, metals, or any other material for which analysis is desired.

Sample preparation is particularly challenging for solid biological samples, such as tissue samples. Physical and/or chemical approaches are often employed to disrupt and homogenize the solid sample for biochemical extraction. While appearingdeceptively simple, transitioning a sample of biologically active tissue, for example, on the order of 1 gram, to a plurality of biomolecules that are stabilized and isolated in an appropriate analytical solution is exceedingly complex, very difficult tocontrol, and prone to introduction of errors and/or sample constituent degradation.

Another challenge associated with sample preparation relates to the lability of the target molecules. For some applications, an overriding criterion is to retain the native biochemical environment prior to sample collection and throughout theextraction process, without perturbing the biochemical constituents to be analyzed. For example, RNases are extremely robust and may significantly degrade the mRNA profile of a tissue sample if the RNases are not immediately stabilized (typicallythermal or chemical inactivation) at the time of tissue collection and during sample processing or homogenization. Often, to minimize perturbation of the biochemical profile of the sample, the tissue is flash-frozen (e.g., via direct immersion of thesample following procurement in liquid nitrogen) and stored at cryogenic temperatures (e.g., -80 degrees C. or lower), which inhibits degradative processes.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

Aspects of the invention address at least some of these challenges by providing, in various embodiments, systems, methods and devices for collecting, stabilizing, fragmenting and/or analyzing samples. As described above, analysis of biologicaland non-biological sample specimens often begins with collection of a sample of relatively large size. Before the constituents of such a sample can be effectively analyzed, the sample, preferably, is fragmented into a plurality of smaller specimens. Such smaller specimens can then be stored, analyzed, or further processed. In one embodiment, a sample holder includes two vessels arranged so that one portion of a sample may be placed into a first vessel and another portion of the same sample may beplaced into a second vessel. The first vessel may be arranged to allow the sample to be frozen (e.g., by exposure to liquid nitrogen or other suitable cryogen) and then fragmented, broken, or otherwise crushed without removing the sample from the firstvessel. The second vessel may be arranged to store the sample under conditions suitable for later histologic or other analysis of the sample. Thus, the two sample portions may be kept together on a common support, e.g., so that if analysis results ofone sample portion require the use of the other sample portion for other tests or confirmation of the first analysis, one can be assured that the sample portions originated from the same subject and have been stored under the same or similar conditions.

A sample may be any material. Exemplary samples include, but are not limited to, bones, teeth, seeds, plants, pathological or non-pathological animal tissue (e.g., muscle, liver, kidney, lung, brain, pancreas, prostate, ovary, breast, etc.),tumor tissue, rocks, mineral samples, tree bark, and/or food products. Exemplary constituents include, but are not limited to, nucleic acids, amino acids, polypeptides, bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores, small organic molecules, small inorganicmolecules, metals, minerals, ores, and the like. The sample may be relatively soft, such as a tissue sample, may be relatively hard, such as a bone or mineral sample, and may include sharp knife-like edges and/or sharp needle-like points. By way of amore particular example of the medical application of the invention, it may be used to process pathological and/or non-pathological tissue samples harvested from a patient. Such samples include, but are not limited to, putative tumor samples takingduring a biopsy.

In one aspect of the invention, a sample holder includes a support structure defining first and second vessels, with each of the vessels including a top opening, e.g., into which a sample portion may be placed. First and second covers may beeach removably engageable with the support structure so as the close the top opening of the first and second vessels, respectively. For example, the covers may be in the form of a cap that is arranged to seal a corresponding vessel closed and beopenable to allow retrieval of all or part of a sample portion from the vessel. The first vessel may be arranged to contain a first sample material and transmit a crushing force exerted on the first vessel to the first sample material so as to crush thefirst sample material. For example, the vessel may be placed in a device arranged to apply a crushing impact force to the first vessel and first sample material, e.g., as described in U.S. Patent Publication US 2005/0132775 which is hereby incorporatedby reference in its entirety. The second vessel may be arranged to contain a second sample material suitable for a desired analysis process, such as a histology analysis.

A sample holder arranged like that described above may provide advantages such as allowing a sample harvester (such as a doctor taking a biopsy sample) to place one portion of a sample in the first vessel and another portion of the same samplein a second vessel. The two sample portions may be stored together, experiencing the same, or similar, conditions. In addition, by harvesting and placing the sample in the vessels at the same time, there may be confidence that the samples originatedfrom the same source, were taken using the same or similar techniques, and so on. Accordingly, if analysis of a first sample portion (e.g., resulting from the first sample material in the first vessel being crushed and subsequently subjected to amolecular analysis to identify whether a particular compound is present) suggests that further or different analysis is required, the second sample portion in uncrushed or other form may be used (e.g., as part of a histology analysis). In someembodiments, the second vessel may be separable from the first vessel, e.g., the second vessel may be used as a histology cassette.

In another illustrative embodiment, a sample holder may include a support structure defining a substantially rigid sidewall of a vessel, a bottom opening of the vessel, and a top opening of the vessel. A first layer of flexible film may beattached to the support structure so that the first layer of film covers the bottom opening, and a second layer of flexible film may be attached to the support structure so that the second layer covers the top opening. The first and second layers may beseparated from each other by at least a part of the sidewall and be arranged to transmit a crushing force exerted on the first and second layers to crush a sample material contained in the vessel, e.g., between the first and second layers and within thesidewall. By having the flexible films separated from each other by a substantially rigid sidewall, the sample material in the vessel may be crushed, yet the vessel may retain at least some of its initial shape and/or size. This is in contrast tobag-type sample holders that are commonly used for sample crushing. While these bag-type sample holders are very effective, retrieval of a crushed sample may require that the bag be manipulated to separate the bag layers from each other and/or move thesample to a desired location in the bag. Sample holders in accordance with some embodiments may allow for crushing of the sample while maintaining the sample in a relatively defined space that can be easily accessed.

The sample holder may be arranged for use with a variety of analysis tools, such as microscopes and other imaging devices, impact devices, microtome devices, acoustic treatment devices, and so on. For example, the sample holder supportstructure may define a generally planar body in which the sidewall is defined and/or from which the sidewall extends, e.g., the support structure may define a shape similar or identical to a microscope slide and the sidewall may extend upwardly from theplanar body and/or have a cylindrical shape. Films on top and bottom sides of the planar body may close top and bottom openings defined by the support structure, and thereby define a vessel in which a sample material is held. In one embodiment, asample contained in the vessel may be held by the vessel for viewing in a microscope or other imaging system either before or after the sample is crushed while in the vessel.

In some embodiments, the first and/or second layers of flexible film may have a convex shape such that a portion of the first and/or second layer extends into the vessel, or the first and/or second layer may have a concave shape such that aportion of the first and/or second layer extends away from the vessel. The concave and/or convex shapes may provide certain features, such as providing a well or other area in which a sample is held, may help hold a sample in place in the vessel (e.g.,by squeezing the sample in place between the two layers), may help direct a sample or portions of the sample to specific areas in the vessel, and so on. The first and/or second layers may be formed of a polyimide, a polysulfone, a fluorinated polymer, aliquid crystal polymer or other suitable material. For example, the first and second layers may be arranged to transmit the crushing force to the sample material while at temperatures less than about -40 degrees C., e.g., after the vessel and sample areimmersed in liquid nitrogen or are otherwise exposed to cryogenic conditions. The first and second layers may transmit the crushing force to the sample material at such low temperatures without cracking, tearing, or ripping when exposed to the crushingforce. This can be a useful property, particularly if the sample is relatively hard, e.g., includes a seed, bone, rock, stone, sand, glass, metal, tree bark, and fragments and combinations thereof, and/or when the crushing force transmits significantenergy to the sample, e.g., of at least up to about 10 Joules or more. The first and second layers may have any suitable thickness, e.g., of between about 0.5 mil and 5 mil.

In one illustrative embodiment, a sample holder may include a support structure that defines a sidewall of a vessel having a bottom opening and a top opening. A first layer of flexible film may be attached to the support structure to cover thebottom opening, and a cap may be removably engageable with the support structure so as the close the top opening of the vessel. The cap may include a cap opening and a second layer of flexible film may cover the cap opening. The first and second layersof film may be arranged to transmit a crushing force exerted on the first and second layers to crush a sample material contained in the vessel. The vessel may be sealed in a substantially air tight fashion when the cap is engaged with the supportstructure, e.g., to isolate a sample in the vessel from an external environment. The top and bottom openings may have any suitable size and/or shape, such as a circular opening with a diameter of about 20 mm. The first and/or second layers may besubstantially flat or have a concave or convex shape, e.g., a convex portion that extends into the vessel and has an outer diameter of about 5 mm and a height of about 2 mm.

In another aspect of the invention, a method of treating a sample material includes providing a sample material between top and bottom flexible films where the flexible films are connected together by a substantially rigid structure thatsurrounds the sample material, and applying a crushing force to the sample material via the top and bottom flexible films. The first and second films and the structure may be arranged like that described above, e.g., in an arrangement that defines acylindrically-shaped space in which the sample is held and a crushing force is exerted from opposite ends of the cylindrically-shaped space.

In another aspect of the invention, a method for treating a sample material includes providing first and second portions of a sample material. The first and second portions may be obtained from a single piece of the sample material, e.g., thefirst and second portions may be cut from a single biopsy sample or other piece of material. The first portion of the sample material may be contained in a first vessel, and a second portion of the sample material may be contained in a second vessel,where the first and second vessels are attached together. The first and second vessels may be arranged to suitably isolate the sample material from an exterior environment, e.g., to help prevent contamination and/or degradation of the sample material. The first portion of the sample material may be crushed while the first portion is contained in the first vessel, and the second portion may be stored in the second vessel for a histology analysis of the second portion of the sample material. In oneembodiment, the first portion may be crushed while the first and second vessels are attached together, e.g., as part of a single, multiple vessel sample holder. Crushing may take place while the sample material is at a relatively low temperature, suchas below -40 degrees C. A molecular analysis of first portion may be performed after crushing, e.g., to analyze whether the first portion includes one or more compounds. Depending on the outcome of the molecular analysis, a histology analysis of secondportion may be performed. For example, if the molecular analysis of the first portion indicates the possible presence of a particular tissue morphology or other characteristic, the histology analysis may be performed to identify whether the morphologyor other characteristic is present.

These and other aspects of the invention will be apparent from the following description and claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Aspects of the invention are described with reference to illustrative embodiments shown in the drawings, in which like numerals reference like elements, and wherein:

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of a sample holder having two vessels in an illustrative embodiment;

FIG. 2 shows a cross sectional view along the line 2-2 of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 shows a cross sectional view of the FIG. 1 embodiment while a crushing force is applied to the sample material in the vessel;

FIG. 4 shows a cross sectional view of a vessel in another illustrative embodiment;

FIG. 5 shows a cross sectional view of a vessel in another illustrative embodiment in which the first and second layers are molded with a support structure and cap;

FIG. 6 shows a cross sectional view of a vessel in another illustrative embodiment including a cap that is threadedly engaged with a support structure;

FIG. 7 shows a cross sectional view of a vessel in another illustrative embodiment in which the first and second layers have a convex feature; and

FIG. 8 shows a cross sectional view of a vessel in another illustrative embodiment in which the first and second layers have a concave feature.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

It should be understood that illustrative embodiments are described in accordance with aspects of the invention. However, the embodiments described are not necessarily intended to show or incorporate all aspects of the invention, but rather areused to describe a few illustrative embodiments. Thus, aspects discussed herein are not intended to be construed narrowly in view of the illustrative embodiments. In addition, it should be understood that aspects of the invention described may be usedalone or in any suitable combination with other aspects also described.

FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of an illustrative embodiment of a sample holder 1 that incorporates one or more aspects of the invention. In this embodiment, the sample holder 1 includes a support structure 2 that is made of a polymer material(such as polycarbonate, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyimide, PTFE, etc.) and has the overall size and shape of a conventional microscope slide. However, it should be understood that the support structure 2 may have any size, shape or otherconfiguration, and may be made of any suitable material, including glass, metal, composites, etc. The sample holder 1 includes two vessels 3 including a first vessel 3a and a second vessel 3b, but may include only one vessel or three or more vessels. The vessels 3 are configured differently in this embodiment, with the first vessel 3a being arranged to hold a sample material for crushing (discussed in more detail below), while the second vessel 3b is arranged to hold a sample material for use in ahistology analysis (e.g., the second vessel 3b may have the form of a standard histology cassette). However, the vessels 3, if two or more are provided, may be arranged in the same or similar way, or may be arranged to hold samples for other purposes. For example, sample material may be stored for any suitable length of time and in a variety of different conditions based on the particular sample, its intended use, etc. Exemplary storage periods include short term storage for minutes (e.g., less thanor equal to 30 minutes) or hours (e.g., less than or equal to 1 to 12 hours). Further exemplary storage periods include overnight storage or storage for 1 or more days, weeks, months, or years.

In accordance with an aspect of the invention, the vessels 3 are separable from each other, e.g., by hand and without the use of tools. For example, in this embodiment, the support structure 2 includes a line of weakness 21, such as aperforation, disengagable snaps or other fasteners, or other feature that allows the vessels 3 to be separated from each other. Such a feature may be useful, for example, for harvesting the samples placed in the vessels at the same time and from thesame subject while ensuring that the samples travel together for at least some portion of the analysis process. At some point in the process, the samples may be separated by separating the vessels 3 from each other to permit the samples to be subjectedto different analysis procedures. An identifier 22, such as a barcode, RFID tag, alphanumeric text, a security feature (e.g., that interacts with an impacting machine to enable crushing of the sample and/or provides information to the machine for properadjustment of a crushing force, impact energy, impact speed, or other crushing parameter) or other feature that allows the sample holder 1 to be identified and/or be associated with the samples held in the vessels 3, may be provided. The identifier 22may be used in a variety of different ways, e.g., to track the movement of the sample holder 1, to associate information regarding a sample held by the vessels 3 with the sample holder 1 in a database, and so on. If the sample holder 1 has separablevessels 3 or other portions, the same or different identifiers 22 may be provided for the separable portions.

In this illustrative embodiment, the support structure 2 defines a sidewall 23 of the vessel 3a. The vessel 3a has a bottom opening 24 and a top opening 25 through which a sample material may be placed into the vessel 3a. Although in thisembodiment, the sidewall 23 has a generally cylindrical or circular shape, the sidewall 23 may have any suitable shape, such as conical, elliptical, square or other rectangular, triangular, or other shape. In addition, although the sidewall 23 in thisembodiment is defined by a hole in the planar body of the support structure as well as an upstanding portion on the planar body, the sidewall 23 may be formed by any suitable structure(s). The top opening 25 may be closed by a cap or other cover 26 toensure the sample material is kept in the vessel 3a. The cover 26 may engage with the support structure 2 to provide a fluid-tight and/or air-tight seal, e.g., to help isolate the sample material from an exterior environment. This feature may be usefulto help ensure that the sample material does not degrade and/or is not contaminated after harvesting. In this embodiment, the cover 26 includes a lip 27 that engages with the sidewall 23 in a snap fit, interference fit, friction fit, or other suitableengagement. The cover 26 and/or the support structure 2 may include one or more seal elements, such as a silicon O-ring seal, a lubricant, a threaded engagement or other arrangement to help form a suitable engagement of the cover 26 with the supportstructure. Although in this embodiment the cover 26 engages the support structure 2 with a snap-fit, the cover 26 may engage in other ways, such as by a screw thread, a clamp, clip or other fastener. The cover 26 may also include a cover opening 28,which may be generally aligned with the bottom opening 24 when the cover 26 is engaged with the support structure 2.

In accordance with an aspect of the invention, both the bottom opening 24 and the top opening 25 may be closed by a flexible film or layer that is arranged to transmit a crushing force to a sample material in the vessel 3a. For example, a firstlayer of film may be attached to support structure 2 to close the bottom opening 24 and a second layer of film may be attached to the cover 26 to close the cover opening 28. Accordingly, when the cover 26 is engaged with the support structure 2 to closethe vessel 3a, the second layer of film and the cover 26 may close the top opening 25 of the vessel 3a.

FIG. 2 shows a cross sectional view of the vessel 3a along the line 2-2 as shown in FIG. 1. Unlike that in FIG. 1, in this view, the cover 26 is engaged with the support structure 2 so as to close the top opening 25 of the vessel 3a. In thisembodiment, a first layer of film 4 is attached to the support structure 2 so as to close the bottom opening 24. Similarly, the second layer of film 5 is attached to the support structure 2 by way of the cover 26 to close the cover opening 28.

That is, the second layer 5 may be bonded to the cover 26 and be attached to the support structure 2 when cover is engaged with the support structure 2. The first and second layers 4 and 5 may be attached in any suitable way, such as byadhesive, thermal bonding, mechanical clamps or other fasteners, and so on. Thus, the attachment of the layers 4, 5 may be permanent (e.g., not intended for removal) or removable (e.g., by releasing a cover or a clamp, clip, or other fastener). Withthe first and second layers 4, 5 closing the bottom and top openings 24, 25 of the vessel 3a, the sample material 10 is trapped in a space bounded by the sidewall 23 and the first and second films 4, 5.

The first and second films 4, 5 and the support structure 2 may be arranged to allow the sample material 10 to be crushed while held in the vessel 3a. For example, as shown in FIG. 3, the sample material 10 may be impacted by a pair of impactelements 11 that are sized and configured to apply a crushing force to the sample material 10 by contacting the first and second films 4, 5. Thus, the sample material 10 may be crushed without necessarily causing damage to the first and second films 4,5 and/or the support structure 2. As a result, the sample material 10 may be crushed, e.g., in preparation for molecular analysis, while maintaining the sample material 10 in a sealed environment. Deflection of the first and second films 4, 5 may varydepending on the application, and in some cases the films 4, 5 may deflect up to 1 mm or more where the sample material has a mass of about 50 milligrams or less. Of course, those of skill in the art will appreciate that the films 4, 5 may deflect togreater extents, such as up to 10 mm or more, and the sample material may have a larger mass, such as up to 250 milligrams or more.

In some embodiments, the films 4, 5 are flexible enough to deform nondestructively (e.g., without experiencing cracking, tearing, ripping or other degradation in structural integrity), or substantially nondestructively, in response to amechanical impact sufficient to fragment the sample material 10 contained within the sample vessel 3. According to one feature, subsequent to the mechanical impact, the sample holder 1 may maintain sufficient structural integrity to continue to separatethe sample material 1 from the external environment. For example, the vessel may maintain the sample in sterile isolation from the external environment. According to various implementations, the mechanical impact may have an impact energy transfer ofabout 1 to 25 Joules or more. In addition, the crushing force may be applied with the sample material 10 and/or the vessel 3 at cryogenic temperatures below about -20 degrees C. to about -80 degrees C. or less (such as about -196 degrees C.). Ofcourse, in some embodiments, the sample holder 1 may be arranged for use only at non-cryogenic temperatures, such as room temperature and/or temperatures above the freezing point of water.

Depending at least in part on the mechanical properties of the sample material 10 (e.g., relatively hard, relatively soft, forms sharp or pointed shards when fragmented, etc.) and the temperature at which fragmentation is to occur, variousmaterials may be used for the sample holder 1. For example, a brain sample may require a particular film layer thickness (e.g., 1 mil layer of Kapton). Alternatively, a bone, seed, or rock sample, which may have sharp and or pointed features, mayrequire a thicker film layer thickness (e.g., 4 mil layer of Kapton). Also, an additional reinforcement layer, for example, of a non-woven polymer material, such as Tyvek (.TM.) (available from Dupont), reinforcement by woven or non-woven material, orother suitable reinforcement may be provided for the films 4, 5. In the example of FIGS. 2 and 3, the films 4, 5 are formed as separate members (e.g., pieces of sheet material) that are attached to the support structure 2, but in other configurations,the sample holder 1 may be entirely, or include portions that are, injection molded as a single, unitary part. For example, the entire sample holder 10 may be molded of a polyimide material, with various portions, including the sidewall 23 and films 4,5 molded as a single part, yet having a thickness and/or other structural arrangement to function as desired. In various embodiments, the sample holder 1 may include, at least in part, a polyimide, polysulfone, liquid crystal polymer, fluorinatedpolymer, and/or other like material, e.g., as part of the films 4, 5.

In various embodiments, the sample holder 10 may be sized and shaped for insertion into, and functional interoperation with, a mechanical impact device, such as that described in U.S. Patent Publication US 2005/0132775. For example, the impactelements 11 may include metal members that are driven together by a hammer, an electromagnetically-driven solenoid piston, a pneumatically-actuated device, a hydraulically-actuated device, a gravity actuated device, or any other suitable mechanism. Also, one of the impact elements 11 may remain stationary while only one element 11 moves toward the other rather than having both elements 11 move. Although the impact device may operate a cryogenic temperatures, the impact providing device may alsooperate at or about room temperature while still applying a crushing force when the sample material 10 is at cryogenic temperatures. That is, even though the impact device may be at room temperature, the impact device may operate quickly enough so thatthe transient exposure of the sample holder 1 to the impact elements 11 does not substantially warm the sample material 10. This is also the case where the sample material 10, itself, is maintained at room or near room temperature. In variousembodiments, the impact device may provide elements for heating or cooling the sample prior or subsequent to fragmenting it. For example, one or both of the impact elements 11 may be chilled (e.g., by liquid nitrogen), and contact of the sample holder 1with one or both of the impact elements 11 may chill the sample material 10. The mechanical impact from the impact elements 11 may provide a force sufficient to disrupt the macro-structure of the sample material 10, and fragment it into a plurality ofpieces in the vessel 3. Illustratively, the impact force may be between about 1 Joule and about 25 Joules. The impact elements 11 may impact the vessel 3 one or more times to achieve the desired sample fragmentation. For example, the vessel 3 andsample material 10 may be contacted 1 to 5, or more times, and each impact may have the same or different force or impact energy applied. For example, the impact force may be initially larger to break a large sample into fragments, and then be reduced.

In some embodiments, the sample holder 1 may also be arranged for use with other types of sample preparation devices than an impact device. For example, the sample holder 1 may be arranged for use with an acoustic treatment device, such as thatdescribed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,948,843. Thus, the sample holder 1 may be used to provide focused acoustic energy to the sample contained within the vessel for performing any one of: cooling; heating; fluidizing; mixing; stirring, disrupting, increasingpermeability of a component of, enhancing a reaction of, sterilizing; and/or further fragmenting the sample material.

FIGS. 1-3 show only one illustrative embodiment, and a sample holder that incorporates one or more aspects of the invention may be arranged in other ways. For example, FIG. 4 shows a cross sectional view of an embodiment that is arranged likethat in FIG. 1, with a difference being that the first film 4 is attached to the support structure 2 above the bottom surface of the support structure 2 to close the bottom opening 24. In addition, the second film 5 is attached to the cover 26 below thecover's upper surface to close the cover opening 28. As with other embodiments, the first and second films 4, 5 may be molded integrally with the support structure 2 and/or a cover 26, or arranged in other suitable ways. FIG. 5 shows anotherillustrative embodiment in which the first and second films 4, 5 are attached to the support structure 2 and the cover 26 at a location that is intermediate that shown in FIGS. 2 and 4. With the arrangement shown in FIG. 5, the films 4, 5 may be clampedby portions of the supporting structure 2 or the cover 26, or the support structure 2 and/or cover 26 may be molded to surround the edges of the films 4, 5 (e.g., pieces of suitable sheet material for the films 4, 5 may be provided into an injectionmold, and the supporting structure 2 and cover 26 co-molded to envelop the edges of the sheet material).

As discussed above, the films 4, 5 may be clamped in place so as to attach the films 4, 5 to the support structure 2 and/or the cover 26 (if provided). For example, FIG. 6 shows an illustrative embodiment in which the first film 4 is attachedto a bottom surface of a support structure 2 to close a bottom opening 24 defined by a sidewall 23, and a second film 5 is attached to a top surface of the support structure 2 to close a top opening 25 defined by the sidewall 23 (e.g., where the sidewall23 is defined by a hole in the support structure 2). While in this embodiment the first film 4 is permanently bonded to the support structure 2, e.g., by thermal welding, adhesive, etc., the second film 4 may be clamped in place and be removable fromthe support structure 2. While the clamping arrangement may be configured in a variety of different ways, in this embodiment the clamp includes a ring 31 (which may also be referred to as a cover 26) that has a threaded portion that engages with athreaded portion of the supporting structure 2. By threadedly engaging the ring 31 to the support structure 2, the ring 31 may squeeze the second film 5 between the ring 31 and the support structure 2, attaching the second film 5 to the supportstructure 2. Of course, the second film 5 may be bonded to the lower surface of the ring 31, if desired, rather than be separate from the ring 31.

In another aspect of the invention, the first and/or second films 4, 5 may be arranged to help position the sample material 10 as desired in the vessel 3. For example, FIG. 7 shows an arrangement that is like that in FIG. 2, except that thefirst and second films 4, 5 each have a convex portion 4a, 5a that extends into the vessel 3a. The convex portions 4a, 5a are present in the films 4, 5 without an external force being applied to the films 4, 5 (e.g., are molded into the films 4, 5) andmay be arranged so as to clamp or otherwise squeeze the sample material 10 between the films 4, 5, thereby helping to hold the sample material 10 in place. Thus, once the cover 26 is engaged with the support structure 2 (or the vessel 3 is otherwiseclosed), the sample material 10 may be held as desired in the vessel, e.g., for later impact processing. The convex portions 4a, 5a may be molded or otherwise formed into the films 4, 5, and may be compliant to a desired extent. In one embodiment, theconvex portions 4a, 5a may have a dome-like shape with a largest diameter of about 5 mm and a height of about 2 mm. In this embodiment, the bottom opening 24 and cover opening 28 may have a diameter of about 20 mm. Of course, it should be understoodthat other dimensions and shapes other than circularly-shaped openings and convex portions are possible. For example, the openings and convex portions may have an elliptical shape, square shape, and others. It should also be understood that only one ofthe films 4, 5 may have a convex portion, while the other film may be substantially flat or have other arrangements.

For example, FIG. 8 shows an embodiment in which the first and second films 4, 5 each have a concave portion 4b, 5b that extends away from the vessel 3. Another difference in this embodiment as compared to that in FIG. 2 is that the second film5 is attached to a bottom surface of the lip 27 of the cover 26. As discussed above, the cover 26 may engage the support structure 2 in any suitable way, such as by interference fit, threaded engagement, clamp, etc. In this embodiment, engagement of thecover 26 with the support structure 2 may also serve to clamp the second film 5 to a surface of the support structure 2, although this arrangement is not necessary.

A concave feature 4b, 5b provided with the films 4, 5 may also help position a sample material 10 as desired in a vessel 3. For example, a concave feature 4b on the first film 4 may provide a depression or well into which the sample material 10may be placed. Thus, the sample material 10 may naturally move to a center of the vessel 3, e.g., by the force of gravity. Although in this embodiment, the second film 5 also has a concave feature, the second film 5 could include a convex feature likethat in FIG. 8 which may be used to provide a biasing force on the sample material 10 to keep the sample material 10 in the center of the concave portion 4b of the first film 4.

After suitable treatment of the sample material 10 in the vessel 3, such as freezing, crushing, acoustic treatment to further break the material into smaller particles, etc., the vessel 3 may be opened and the sample material 10 transferred toanother sample holder 1. In one embodiment, the sample holder 1 may be arranged to sealingly couple with another sample holder, such as a tube, to help ease transfer of the sample material 10. For example, the vessel 3a in FIG. 1 may opened by liftingthe cover 26 and a tube engaged with the sidewall 23 of the support structure 2. Then, the support structure 2 and vessel 3a may be inverted, causing the sample material 10 to be transferred into the tube.

Embodiments in accordance with the invention may be arranged to accommodate an increase in air or other gas pressure in the vessel 3 during crushing of the sample material 10. That is, when the sample material 10 is impacted in someembodiments, the volume of the vessel 3 may be decreased, if only momentarily, increasing the gas pressure in the vessel 3. To compensate, and while maintaining a sealed environment for the sample material, the vessel 3 may be arranged to "burp", i.e.,to release gas through a one-way valve, through a seal between the cover 26 and support structure 2 or other pathway when the sample is impacted. While gas may be released from the vessel 3, the sample holder 1 may be arranged to prevent the inflow ofgas into the vessel 3, thus maintaining the sample material isolated from an external environment. In other embodiments, the films 4, 5 and/or other portions of the sample holder 1 may be arranged to accommodate an increase in gas pressure. Forexample, portions of the films 4, 5 that are not contacted by the impact elements 11 or other similar structures during crushing may move to accommodate gas in the vessel 3 so as to maintain the same pressure or another elevated pressure that does notcompromise a seal of the vessel 3. In one embodiment, one or both films 4, 5 may include a convex portion in areas not contacted by the impact elements 11 that move (e.g., from a convex configuration to a concave configuration) to accommodate anincrease in gas pressure. Other arrangements are possible, such as a gas reservoir, a pressure release valve, etc.

Other aspects of the invention relate to methods for processing sample material. In one aspect, a method for treating a sample material includes providing a sample material between top and bottom flexible films where the flexible films areconnected together by a substantially rigid support structure that surrounds the sample material, and applying a crushing force to the sample material via the top and bottom flexible films. As discussed above, by having the films connected together by asubstantially rigid structure that is interposed between the films and surrounds the sample material, the sample material may be contained in a relatively defined area that is easily accessed. The flexible films may include suitable features, such as aconcave or convex shape that contacts the sample material. Such features may be useful to help locate the sample material for crushing and/or removal. The crushing force may be applied while the sample material is at a temperature less than about -40degrees C. and without cracking, tearing, or ripping the top and bottom flexible films.

In another aspect of the invention, a method for treating a sample material includes providing first and second portions of a sample material, where a first portion of the sample material is contained in a first vessel, and a second portion ofthe sample material is contained in a second vessel. The first and second vessels may be attached together, e.g., by a line of weakness or other feature that allows the vessels to be separated from each other by hand and without tools. The firstportion of the sample material may be crushed while the first portion is contained in the first vessel, and the second portion may be stored in the second vessel for a histology analysis of the second portion of the sample material.

In some embodiments, crushing of the first sample may be performed while the first and second vessels are attached together, e.g., while the first sample is at cryogenic temperatures. Crushing of the sample may prepare it for a molecularanalysis, such as testing to discover the presence of one or more compounds in the sample. Depending on the outcome of the molecular analysis, a histology analysis of the second portion may be performed.

Having thus described several aspects of at least one embodiment of this invention, it is to be appreciated various alterations, modifications, and improvements will readily occur to those skilled in the art. Such alterations, modifications,and improvements are intended to be part of this disclosure, and are intended to be within the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, the foregoing description and drawings are by way of example only. It will be apparent that other embodimentsand various modifications may be made to the present invention without departing from the scope thereof. The foregoing description of the invention is intended merely to be illustrative and not restrictive thereof. The scope of the present invention isdefined by the appended claims and equivalents thereto.

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